The Japanese word とにかく (tonikaku) is often translated as “anyway” in English — and yes, that is correct in several cases. However, it also has another (and probably more dominant) meaning: “very/so/really”, “before/more than anything else” or “at all costs”, which seems to be missing in many Japanese-English dictionaries (and hence I’ve decided to write a brief post on this). See the following sections for their specific usages.
Meanings of とにかく(Tonikaku)
This is the well-known definition of とにかく. Here are some examples:
Anyway, let’s do it
Well Anyway, I’ll leave the rest to you.
2. “very/so”; “before/more than anything else”; “at all costs”
This definition seems to be missing in many dictionaries, and yet is probably more common than the first definition described above. See several examples below.
とにかく + Adjective
This cat is so cute. (before anything else it can be)
(Incidentally, there is a Japanese anime titled “トニカクカワイイ (tonikaku kawaii)”, which also means “so cute” rather than “cute anyway” as translated by some people).
He is very cheerful and I’ve never seen him depressed.
(There is a once-famous Japanese comedian whose stage name is “とにかく明るい安村”, meaning “Yasumura, who is very cheerful (more than anything else)”)
Recently I’ve been very busy and don’t even have time to eat.
I need money more than anything else.
I hope they are safe more than anything else.
とにかく + Verb
When a tsunami warning is issued, run away immediately before (doing/thinking about) anything else.
In the next tournament, I want to be a champion at all costs/more than anything else.
兎にも角にも (Tonimo kakunimo)
In fact, とにかく is also written as “兎に角” in kanji sometimes. This is because とにかく is originally an abbreviation of 兎にも角にも (tonimo kakunimo), which is also used by itself in writing sometimes. The kanjis 兎 (と, “rabbit”) and 角 (かく, “corner”) are just 当て字, i.e. they represent the readings of the word only and not its meaning. The actual meanings of と and かく are “that” and “this” in old Japanese, respectively, and とにかく is said to have originated from them. For instance, と言ひかく言ひ means “say that and this” in old Japanese (ひ in old Japanese = い in modern Japanese).